Review: The Last of Us

The Last of Us is a new IP from Naughty Dog, and likely their last of this console generation. As far as the company’s work on the PlayStation 3 goes, it’s obvious that Uncharted is generally what they’ll be remembered for, and that experience with a similar style of play shows in spades in their work on this new title, so much so that, if you didn’t know Naughty Dog was behind The Last of Us, you would have a mere hour (or less) into playing the game.

The story in The Last of Us revolves around a mutated virus that is airborne and affects humans almost instantly. It changes behavior and, for all intents and purposes, changes them into zombies. I will admit, when I first heard that The Last of Us was a zombie game, I let out a very heavy, very audible sigh. Enough with the zombies already, people. However, in the first 15 minutes of this game I realized that this is going to be so much more than just another shoot-em-up, kill all the zombies-type of game. So much more.

After you jump through the intro bit – which, let me tell you, is probably one of the most frightening game intros I’ve ever played, and not in the way you think – you’re introduced to the world. Rather, what has become of the world since the infection took hold on a global scale. Our main protagonist, Joel, lives every day to fight for survival, and that includes securing weapons and other supplies for him and his friends. One of their shipments gets intercepted by a group called the Fireflies. They are considered a rebel group and a threat by the overly antagonistic and oppressive military, which holds control over major cities and “safe zones”, but could be, in another way, called freedom fighters by more common folk.


To get the guns back, Joel and his friend seem to think doing an easy job for the Fireflies will suffice, so they agree to deliver some “cargo” to a group of Fireflies and get it moved out of the city. That “cargo” ends up being a 14-year-old girl by the name of Ellie. You can see where this is going, given what you know about the game already, right? They end up (grudgingly, at first) becoming a dynamic duo, and I mean that in more ways than one.

The characters really and truly take center stage here. Many people compare this game to Uncharted, and compare Joel to Nathan Drake. This is a bit of a wrong comparison. The problem in comparing the two is they are almost, in every way imaginable, completely different. At first glance, maybe not, but consider the events in the games and how they relate to changing and shaping the character’s attitudes and actions throughout the rest of the story. If you think about it, Joel and Nathan are absolutely nothing alike.

What happens to Joel in the first bit of the game really, truly changes his life, his outlook on his life and the world around him, and shapes his interactions with Ellie throughout the entirety of the story. Ellie is a brash, impatient teenager who has issues (at first) meshing with Joel’s wiser, more laid back attitude, but this is part of what makes the two really click The pure pleasure of hearing their interactions throughout the course of the game truly speaks to how well this pair is written and acted. This, my friends, is why you need to play this game. But, more on that later.

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As I moved in to the meatier parts of the game, I realized that the gameplay itself was pretty “standard”. By that, I mean very polished, very smooth, very intuitive and functional, “Naughty Dog standard”. There’s nothing truly innovative about it, but there doesn’t have to be. Innovation is overrated, especially when a developer has refined their art into the absolutely stellar and robust action gameplay that exists in The Last of Us.

Controlling Joel is a breeze, and every aspect of the game – from the platforming bits to the gunfights – is done with precision to such a degree that other developers should be looking at this game to give them ideas for their own titles. In continuing the comparison to Uncharted, there is less serious platforming and puzzles and a bit more gun play, but what is included in the gameplay isn’t the point, nor is it a compelling reason to play this game. If all you’re here for is to shoot at zombies and run across a post-apocalyptic landscape – regardless how beautiful it is – then you’re here for the wrong reasons.

Beyond that, the zombies aren’t even your worst enemy in the game. From the beginning, things are set up to really make the militant ruling faction really grate at you and they – not necessarily the zombies or the virus itself – are seemingly always the ones who get in the way of your ultimate goal. The infected humans are more of an annoyance. It’s a lot like dealing with a mosquito while you’re in a gunfight, so to speak.

You have a lot of tools to help you out on your journey, that’s for sure. From automatic weapons to more crude (yet still highly functional) methods to take out or distract your enemies, you have a wide range of choice. There’s nothing like breaking a bottle over some unsuspecting soldier’s head like in the movies, or tossing a brick in the opposite direction you want to move just to keep the soldier’s attention off of you and your companion.

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Stealth plays a huge part in the gameplay, as well, and more often than not, avoiding confrontations with large numbers of baddies altogether is the smoothest way to go. But, there are generally any number of ways you can deal with every encounter, from going in guns blazing, to sneaking up behind each soldier and putting the clamp down around their throat, and this is really what makes the gameplay in The Last of Us so stellar – you have choices and, while it is linear in a way, it doesn’t feel like it is.

Unfortunately, while stealth can be a huge part of the game, there are segments where you just can’t. You will grow to hate and fear Clickers, similar to how we all grew to hate and fear Big Daddies in BioShock. It’s that sort of twisted interest that will draw you to them, yet send you screaming like a little girl at the same time.

The AI in this game is probably some of the best I’ve seen. Enemies are smart, sometimes too smart – they dodge, hide, take their time, stealthily sneak up on you, distract you, confuse you and do just about everything they can to get at you or lure you to them. Each encounter can be a challenge – perhaps some more-so than others, depending on the way you, as the player, approach each situation, and that all adds to the feeling of just needing to simply survive above all else.

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The reasons you should play this game are astronomical in number, but the top ones are characters and story, as I alluded to earlier. What’s most important here, I feel, is the spectrum of emotions this game runs you through. Most prominently, I feel overwhelming loss – both on a personal level with the characters, as well as looking at the world around them, which is a huge part of immersing you into this story and putting yourselves in the shoes of both Joel and Ellie.

This isn’t a story about having an adventure, like Uncharted was. This is the story of two people who are getting to know each other in sort of a father/daughter way and simply trying to survive, and that’s what much of the tone of the game feels like. Each fight feels like struggle, each personal victory a triumph.

The voice acting is superb, probably the best I’ve heard in a video game ever. The audio has a way to tie story points together, and string along emotions and feelings that the characters are experiencing so they can, in some small way, be experienced by the person with the controller, as well. The fighting, like the audio, is a way of connecting two different parts of the character story together, or making sure everything meshes. While it isn’t quite an annoyance, like the infected humans I mentioned earlier, it does still feel like something you have to do to get to the parts of this game that really matter.

Replay value of games these days is judged along with everything else, but I feel, in this case, that is an unfair way of looking at things. There is no reason to play The Last of Us more than once, unless you’re the type to want to play on the hardest difficulty. The story doesn’t change, the characters don’t change. There may be a piece or two of new dialog if you charge into a situation instead of taking out your opponents quietly, but that’s about it. The point is not to replay, the point is to spend these 20-ish hours experiencing a story.

Once you’ve experienced the story and the characters with one play-through, the experience almost seems like it would diminish if you play through it again. It feels like you’d possibly get desensitized to what really makes this game tick.


Far be it for me to tell you, the players, how to play a game you buy with your own hard-earned cash – and I know you want to get the most out of your money – but this is just the way I view it. It’s sort of like Heavy Rain, in a way. I know Heavy Rain had multiple endings, but it feels, to me, it would diminish what the game is trying to do if I were to play through it again. I experienced it and I loved it and I “got it”. That’s what counts – the experience – not how many times I can play through it and on what difficulty levels.

The Last of Us is so much more than the sum of its parts. At its core, it’s a personal story of loss and, possibly, a bit of redemption. It’s a story of compassion in a harsh, unforgiving world. It’s about visceral survival instincts that all of us were created with to just get by in extreme situations. It’s about the story and the characters, everything else is just icing on the cake. However, all parts work in an excellent way together and meld into what I would call the perfect wrap up to a wonderful generation of games from Naughty Dog. If it was earlier in this generation I’d call The Last of Us a system seller (it still might be for some people if they don’t already own a PS3). You owe it to yourself to experience this game. Just do it. Go. Now.

Update: As you may have noticed, I mentioned nothing about the multiplayer aspects of The Last of Us in the review. I completed the game earlier this week and, unfortunately, I can’t redeem the included online pass code until launch day, which is tomorrow.

Join the Discussion

  • angelica

    I don’t see this review on Metacritic 😮

  • Yannick Van Broeck

    Very nice review! If I could afford the extra $70 at the moment I would but I’m down on money since I ordered my PS4 yesterday 😉

    • ChadAwkerman

      Thanks! I’m in the same boat. Pre-ordered mine the other day also. (^_^)b

  • Dakan45

    10? please.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      You’re welcome.

      • Dakan45

        Low standards much? Or this game is everything you ever wanted to play?

        • Giuseppe Nelva

          Disagreeing with you =/= Low standards.

          • Dakan45

            A 10 for a game that has mediocre graphics (killzone 3 looked better and compared with every multiplat on pc they are mediocre) subpar shooting mechanics and linear campaign held by story without revolutionizing the genre, yet getting a 10, is not a matter of dissagreeing, its a matter of overrating a game for no apparent reason.

            I am gonna quite something i read yesterday “mathemeticians try to find a number that is higher than 10 but lower than 11 so game “critics” will be able to rate actually amazing games accordingly without sufficating from the amout of cash that the publisers shoved in heir mouths and thus silencing their opinion”

          • ChadAwkerman

            If you knew me (and I’m sure Giuseppe and the rest of our reviewers can attest to), I’m VERY picky in how we rate games, especially when we get up toward the “holy grail” of 10/10. Do you know how many 10/10 games we’ve had in the last year? Two, including this one. It is NOT an easy thing to do.

            A 10/10 also is not a perfect score. Every game has something that is wrong with them, there are no perfect games. At all. Yet, we look at games that have so much going for it that they make minor flaws appear like they practically aren’t there like they could get a 10/10. Again, if you knew me, you would know I just do not overrate a game “for no apparent reason”, like you seem to think.

            The visuals are a matter of opinion. The shooting mechanics are not in any way the focus of the game, but, at the same time, they work, and they work well. This game is not a shooter, in any form of the word. “Revolutionizing the genre” or innovation is highly overrated. As long as a game does what it does well, then there should be no need for it to “revolutionize” anything to be a great game. You might want to read my article on JRPG innovation and apply it to just about any genre out there.


            If you think we’re in the pockets of Sony, you would be wrong. If we were, we’d be doing this full-time and not trying to balance it with our full time jobs outside this hobby. You then must also think we’re in the pockets of Microsoft (Halo 4 got a 10/10) or Nintendo (Skyward Sword got a 10/10) or hey, even NISA (Disgaea 4 got a 10/10) or EA (Mass Effect 2 got a 10/10).

            Where does it end?

          • Dakan45

            Well i dont think games should get 10s So by saying you got so many games with 10s, it feels like you rate similar as xboxe official magazine, basicl give out high ratings and 9.5s and 10s often.

            So is there a way games reviwed? Eg compared with graphical and techonological achievement or innovation? Or they are rated compared with what is outhere at the time, thus if bad games are out there, a game gets high ratings for being decent?’

            Or is it based on personal opinion?

            In any case if we let go of innovation and revolutionizing the genre we will end up playing games like heavy rain and ryse with very limited gameplay interaction and just good visuals, just like movies.

            Then again this generation has shown how franchises kill their roots and horror games turned into action games to get sales and everyone makes cod ripoffs.

            So you gota ask yourself, is innovation really overrated?

            If you were rating games with harsh numbers i could understand how one game would get a 10 among the cod clones by simply doing what the other 5 cod clones do, but much better. So it would be the better of those cod clones, but if every game achieves high ratings so easilly, what really sets those games apart? What is the way games are rated then? Just on personal opinion?

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            Looking at metacritic, you’re abundantly in the minority.

            May want to come to terms with the idea that a whole lot of people consider this game worthy of a 10, and that your opinion of it is not absolute. It’ll help you feel better.

          • Dakan45

            Yes metacritic is such a fine site for those things.

            But then again how exactly does one “qualify” For being a “Critic”

            The game was basicly reviewed with 10 before it even comes out. Which is suspicious to say the least.

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            Metacritic is a good indication on how many critics consider a game in a certain way. If a ton of them consider it a ten, then chances are that it deserves that score.

            I’ve been playing games since 1984, mind you.

            Oh, by the way, innovation or revolution have very little to do with quality. A game can have absolutely zero innovation, and still being a top notch game.

            And games are reviewed before they come out before developers send critics advance copies of the game several days or even weeks before release. There’s absolutely nothing suspicious about it.

          • Dakan45

            ” If a ton of them consider it a ten, then chances are that it deserves that score.”

            Ehhh no.

            More like giving frebbies, you will hardly see such high ratings from big sites.

            “Oh, by the way, innovation or revolution have very little to do with quality.”

            Been playing since 1992 and i have gotten tired of the same samey games we have sen in this generation. So no innovation might not be very important but when the entire industry delievers polished samey turds, you kinda long for innovation.

            ” There’s absolutely nothing suspicious about it.”

            Breaking release embargo is though.

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            I’m afraid you have a lot of misconceptions, topped by a bit of ignorance here and there.

            Reviews have separate embargos set by the publisher. It’s not the same as the public release date. In the case of TLOU the review embargo was on June the 5th.

            Also, there are plenty “big sites” that gave this game a 10 or equivalent full score: Edge, Destructoid, Jotstiq, IGN, Eurogamer, GiantBomb and more.

            So yes, you’re wrong. Simple as that. May want to get to terms with it.

            And by the way, what you’re tired of is irrelevant to a review or a review score. A review is based on a game’s quality, not on your wishful thinking or dislikes. Quality and innovation are two different things that don’t always (actually very seldom) go in the same direction.

            Ultimately, you can moan as much as you like, but Chad gave it a ten because he felt it deserves a ten, and as another veteran reviewer I fully agree, and I’m most definitely not the only one.

            It’s his prerogative and everything else is irrelevant.

          • Dakan45

            In other words this site sucks, ok then ill leave.

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            Don’t let the door hit you and all that.

            Oh, and disagreeing with you has really nothing to do with “sucking”. Have a nice day.

  • Rafael

    It’s not a virus, but a fungus!